By Daniel Robichaud & Mary Robichaud
After an arduous start, we touched down in Cape Town with fifty hours travel time and were thankful to have arrived.
Cape Town was a surprise as we had not expected it to be such a vibrant city. The city is known for its harbour, for its natural setting, and for landmarks as Table Mountain ( a UNESCO World Heritage site) and . As of 2014, it is the 10th most populous cityin Africa and home to 64% of the Western Cape's population. It is one of the most multicultural cities in the world, reflecting its role as a major destination for immigrants and to South Africa.
With a population of over 3.7 Million the city wraps itself around the base of Table Mountain and spreads to the shores of the South Atlantic Ocean.
Though we weren’t located in the city centre, we were in an outer development called “Century City”. Century City has been developed on a reclaimed wetland using the water as a highlight and green lung surrounding the Canal Walk shopping centre. The Canal Walk is the largest shopping mall in Africa and the Southern Hemisphere when it opened in December 2000. Recently expanded the mall contains over 400 stores, 20 movie theatres, many restaurants and bars and an entertainment section. A good place to purchase the much needed supplies when your luggage is lost.
Before we travel we always go to the Government of Canada travel advisory page to see how the area is rated. Unfortunately it read a high degree of caution, we found the opposite. The people are outgoing and friendly and the first to point out if they think you may be in an unsafe area, they were so concerned for our safety they volunteered to call us a taxi and then wait with us until it arrived.
With the development of the Suez Canal the waterfront area went into decline but in 2015, the V&A Waterfront announced the development of a new mixed-use District. The complex houses over 450 retail outlets, including fashion, homeware and curios, to jewelry, leather goods and audio-visual equipment. The V&A Waterfront is also still a working harbour and fishing boats bring in fresh fish, and larger container ships are towed in by tugboats. The many restaurants and bars are a perfect place to indulge in that “emergency glass of chardonnay” or anything from a light lunch to a full course meal which we very much enjoyed.
Once the meetings were finished we were off to the Safari in Kruger National Park. To say this was exciting is an understatement. We all gathered at the lobby and boarded the transport to the airport. The trip was only a couple of hours but we traveled 1950 kilometres. Our other transport was waiting for us and we all piled into the shuttle bus while the limited luggage was put into an additional trailer.
As we travelled to the park we passed through the "Jock of the Bushveld" nature conservancy, within 20 minutes from the famous Kruger National Park, Numbi Gate, in Mpumalanga. The agriculture outside the reserve involves largely the production of tropical fruits, vegetables, flowers and timber and tobacco, and is one of the most fertile in the province.
We arrived just before 2 P.M. and had an hour to settle into our “Glamping” accommodations. Outfitted with a king sized bed atop a 6 inch raised laminated floor electrically equipped tents we felt they had everything anyone could possibly want for our 3 night stay.
Our first excursion started at 3 P.M. sharp and we climbed onto the 3 tiered land rover vehicles. It was about 27C and sunny so we hoped we’d see a lot of animals. Our ranger Jason was a veritable encyclopedia of information about the wildlife and possible locations. Don’t forget the park is over 2,000,000 hectares or the same size of Switzerland. “Huge” extends beyond land area: It is home to 336 tree, 49 fish, 34 amphibian, 114 reptile, 507 bird and 147 mammal species. Kruger National Park is said to hold over 48 tons of ivory in storage and there are some 12 000 elephants in the park, so to have all this knowledge riding in the truck with us was a treat indeed, who needs guide books?
Cruising along we stopped to see 2 black rhinos off in the distance, too far for us to get a decent photo we were thrilled to see them as there are only approximately 350 in the whole park. Jason was so happy as he’s only seen them 3 times in 14 months working as a ranger in the park.
A little farther along we came upon a lone African buffalo, Jason explained this was an older male who was too old to keep up with the herd and we were concerned he would end up prey to the large cats in the park. Soon enough a second buffalo joined him and others were coming from the distance. Jason said they usually formed their own senior herd for protection.
Farther along were Zebras, Springbok, Kudus, Impalas, Oryx (all types of antelope) along with a Martial Eagle, Lavender Breasted Rollers (birds), Hyenas and their pups, Elephants and Giraffes. We also encountered a group of Southern Ground Hornbills which as Jason explained were so rare in the park that when we returned he had to write a report with the day, time, g.p.s. location and how many were in the group. He was very excited to see them though they are quite a large homely bird with striking red face and neck patches.
Farther along on the way back we passed a Marula tree where sighting of a leopard earlier that day was reported, but no luck on seeing it. Heading back to camp we passed more Giraffe, Impalas, Warthogs, Hyenas, a small herd of Elephants and various birds, didn’t take many photos, we had to get back before sundown as we are the ones locked in at night, not the animals.
The whole group exchanged photos and where they had gone while the camp got our evening meal ready and we dined under the stars. The evening wound down as we were all pretty tired and it was cooling off 18c, our beds seemed much more comfortable than the chairs.
The next morning came early as a knock on the metal tent frame announced it was 5a.m. and the truck was leaving in half an hour. Instant coffee and on the road, the sun was just below the horizon when we started out throwing an orange light into the lilac sky. We were all bundled up as it was only about 14c and in the open trucks it seemed colder, thank you Jason for the blankets provided.
We first saw a lone Giraffe in the soft light, got a great shot of it bending to the thorny bushes for breakfast. Then a lone Elephant and sat watching him break off the branches of a tree and move them to his mouth. The sound of the branches snapping in the quiet of the morning and his crunching them showed how strong and destructive they are during the dry season.
A while later more Hyenas, some White Rhinos then back to the Marula tree hoping to see the leopard. What a rush to see him in the tree as the sun climbed higher so he was bathed in sunshine. Made us remember we weren’t the top of the food chain watching him with the Impala. Slowly pulling away there was a call on the radio and Jason said there was a surprise farther down the road. Top speed in the park is 50 kph so we made our way there hoping it was still there.
Getting to the right spot we watched a pride of 11 lions crossing the road and laying in the shade of the brush but just off the road and for us in the open. They were within 20 ft. of our truck and just didn’t seem to be bothered by us at all. Jason said they looked like they had fed recently and that there was no mature male, all females and immature males. We watched them for about 20 minutes and then moved off. Farther on we came upon a large herd of senior buffalo. They were just laying around trying to warm up from the cool night.
Farther along we saw more Giraffes, Elephants, and in a dry riverbed a large herd or Impala, there was about 50 of them munching the dry grass moistened by the overnight dew. Then we moved to a watering hole and saw 9 hippos in the water to one side and on the other side a carcass with buzzards and a hyena cleaning up what was left. Each animal there has their role to play and Jason thought that may have been what the lions had fed on. With 11 lions they would make short work of it. Just along the backside of the water there was a line of Impalas tentatively approaching with their reflections mirrored in the water.
We continued and saw a younger Elephant along the road but he was not happy to see us and wanted to cross the road to get away from us, he stopped long enough to fill his trunk with dust and blow it over his back and then quickly crossed and entered the bushes. Way off in the distance more Rhinos under large tree. At another small watering hole a large black and white Stork and a large Hawk. Heading back to camp we once again passed where the Leopard was earlier. He wasn’t in the tree and it took a while to spot him on the ground their camouflage is so good.
Returning to camp we once again ate under the stars but hit the bed early as the day passed so quick we couldn’t believe where the time went.
Third day dawned cloudy and cool 16C and we declined to go out, others in the group saw a fight between Hyenas and African Wild Dogs, but not much about because of the weather. That evening it began to rain and sightings were very low, it continued to rain hard with thunder storms through the night and in the morning of the 4th day was only 8C. Some people went out but returned shortly as they were cold and now wet. We would have given anything for a heater, but had a good warm breakfast and got ready to leave.